Unjani - "How are you?"
March 14th, 2011
March 14th, 2011
There was a little girl waiting for us outside of the Seki Women's Foundation when we arrived. As Ian pulled our van to a stop, she bolted inside. She was the lookout.
As we entered the building the children were singing. Children sing beautifully in every language...the Xhosa singing was especially beautiful on this African morning.
We hauled our bags of activities and goodies in as Mrs. Bono, the leader of Seki Women's Foundation, finished her announcements. Then one of the children opened with prayer and another offered us a formal thanks for our long travel to be with them. Even as children...these South Africans are very gracious.
As the group readied our program, I wandered over to where a group of girls were sitting and tried to introduce myself in broken Xhosa. "Molo!"(hello), I smiled at one of them, "Unjani (how are you)?". She looked away from me. I pushed her, "Unjani?" She looked away again. She wasn't bashful. She wasn't scared. But it was somewhere uncomfortably in between... I strolled back to the group.
Our first activity was to take an individual picture of each of the children with their name, age, and what they like to do so that we could bring their stories home with us. The rest of the morning was spent on the floor with the children (Ian and Ken led them in making paper airplanes), singing songs ("Boom-Chick-A-Boom" works as well in South Africa as it does at Camp at the Eastward), making shirts with them (thanks to Dave and Ron for teaching them how to use fabric paint), and designing visors using press-on stickers with Lynn and Elaine. They children were receptive, but shy. Most didn't look us in the eye. They looked away in away that disrupted me from the inside out.
"How many times has this child been beaten? And this one, what has happened to her? He is sick, is it HIV?", these were the questions shaking my veins and pressing in on my temples.
Others in our group were feeling disrupted in a similar way. At lunch, one of us even asked Unathi, our friend and spiritual guide, about the reactions we were getting from the kids.
Unathi told us that many of these children have never seen a white person except for on TV. She said that they could not believe that we would be interested in them.
"The first thing you did was take their picture, ask their name, their age, and what they like to do. No one has ever treated them like that before. They don't know what to make of it."
I convey this story - not to give undue credit to our group for treating children as they should be treated in the first place – but to emphasize the "lostness" of these orphans. No, lost is not the right word. They have not been lost. People search after lost things. We turn over couch cushions to find a lost quarter. We empty the junk drawer to find a lost key. We tear the closet apart to set eyes on a lost pair of shoes. These children are not lost. They are discarded.
People don't search for discarded things and discarded things don't expect to be searched after...it is not difficult to imagine why these children were surprised by our attention to them.
Unathi's words made each of us even more determined to build relationships with the children that afternoon. We spent time throwing a frisbee and talking sports with the boys. The girls jumped rope and laughed with us in the sun. Others cuddled up to the smallest orphans and colored with fresh crayons and coloring books.How quickly they warmed to us and how us to them in those few hours! It was a very emotional experience, all around.
We left by offering them gifts. The Philadelphia Phillies were very gracious to the orphans by sending caps, small Phanatics, and pictures of the players. The children were very happy to receive them. (We are saving the Red Sox stuff for the next orphanage!) They also received (depending on age): candy, hair pieces, balls, bags, mini-globes, and chap sticks.
After the children left we gave the community gardeners hats from our church and then presented Mrs. Bono and the ten "mamas" (helpers) quilts made by the ladies of the church. It was a minor gesture compared to the work that they do for these children and we were glad to recognize the way that they are serving God in their community.
There is much more to say about this day and I'll make time to say it, but, for now, let me leave it at this: this was not an easy day. This day reminds me that the world is not as God would have it. But these days also remind me that God has a different future in mind. It is a future where children in every town from here to America have, at the very least, fresh milk and sober parents. Jesus leads us into that future...but when the day is difficult and we can't see him...look for people like Unathi and Mrs. Bono....they see him...and they know the way he is going.
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